Sunday, April 25, 2004

For most people, it isn't until you're required to do so that you 'listen to your body'. It's not like sitting in a quiet room waiting for one of your internal organs to speak up, "Kidney here, could you drink less water right before bedtime?" but more like paying attention to how you feel. Whether you're pregnant or have cancer, you're asked to pay attention to how you feel. It was when I was pregnant that I had the freedom (from the fear of looking like a hypochondriac) and the opportunity to ask about what turned out to be cancer. Now I pay attention because I can't not pay attention. So when something happens, or, more likely, I notice something has happened and it worries me, I have some choices. Ignore it. Or I can placate myself by treating the symptoms (dig through that bag of chemo meds!) and pretend it has to ominous portent. Or I can become convinced that it is something, and search for a way to figure out what it is. (This is where the internet comes in.)

One item I read recently about being a mom said that you're never off-duty, you're just on standby. And this is true--you're always vigilant to a certain extent. I remember the night when Kevin could finally take over night duty, and how well I slept. I never realized that I was listening for Conor while I was sleeping. (And now that I sleep like a log I know why men don't hear babies crying--they're not listening for it and they certainly don't want to hear it!)

So that's how I feel about listening to my body--I have to listen, I can't tune it out. Maybe I can convince myself to do that at some point, but not now.

Friday, April 23, 2004

Memories. Good lord, this is getting irritating. When you're able to forget you're a cancer victim/survivor/whatever, it would be nice not to FORGET NEARLY EVERYTHING ELSE!

I know that I usually need a hook to hang something on, and I can remember to focus enough to have that happen. But it's the very short-term things that are gone. Another recent example is the answering machine. I saw the blinking message light and wondered who'd called. But I didn't have time to check right then. Later, I saw the light was off and asked Kevin who had called. He played dumb, that asshole. So I played the messages, irritated that he would have listened to them and then forgotten about it, and as the message played I realized I was the asshole, because I had listened to the message myself but promptly forgotten.

Jesus Christ.

So I was reading a book about the brain recently (Mind Wide Open: Your Brain and the Neuroscience of Everyday Life by Steven Johnson) and it had some very interesting points (most I've forgotten, of course) but one that stuck with me. It postulates that you have different attention centers in your head, for example, one that 'drives' for you so you can daydream or talk on the cell phone. I know, based on my own experience, that chemo has affected my attention centers. I forget things, can't drive properly, etc. The book also talks about detailed tests that can measure these, and it would be facinating to do a study of people before and after to see if that's true.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

When can you breathe again?

With a leadoff like that, I feel like Carrie Bradshaw from Sex in the City, but it's a question that's been on my mind. Another mom asked me that after she inquired about my cancer 'journey'. I gave her the abbreviated version, and she asked, "When can you breathe again?" My answer? I don't know, I said. It depends on your mental approach. For me, once I get a second clear PET/CT scan I feel like I can start planning more than six months ahead. (Ask me again after that, I'm sure the answer will change.)

I heard Paul Auster on FreshAir on NPR and he was talking about his brushes with death and how they affected him. During his previous interview on FreshAir he talked about a near-fatal car accident. During this interview he talked about another near-fatal incident. It made me realize that cancer was just another way of letting you, and everyone around you, know that bad things can happen to you. (I believe the average cancer survival rate is up to 60%, so it's not just death--trust me, treatment ranks up there in the crappy things list). But it's not just cancer that can do it. Almost anything can make you realize that you can, and will, die someday. And that 'someday' might be sooner than you think.

And once you've entered this altered state, you find many others who are there with you, for different reasons. Maybe it didn't happen to them, but to someone they know. Car crashes happen every day, cancer is diagnosed, family members die. Auster commented that all of these people have a story, and it is terrible in a private way, and not very interesting in the abstract. And that's where he finds his inspiration.

Auster recounts an episode in Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett, a parable Sam Spade tells about a reasonably successful man who is just missed by a steel beam dropping from a high-rise construction site. He is so affected by this--realizes that the world is governed by chance--that he nearly immediately goes to another city and starts his life all over again. Hammett describes this action as fighting fire with fire, as negating life's random chances by creating your own.

It's a facinating reaction. It's not the things that happen to you that are interesting, it's how you react to them. Most people do nothing. And how you react is very infrequently logical. Because logic doesn't help with you deal with feelings. The realization that we are all going to die is not a very useful one when you're dealing with survival. Why on earth would you continue to do anything if you KNEW it was all essentially useless. So we are hardwired to NOT know that. As Terry Gross said, it is the "precarious and unpredictable nature of life" which most of us can ignore on a daily basis. And we have to in order to get out of bed in the morning. Those that are living with death know on an intellectual level that life is short, but the majority of our brain could care less. Forget whatever Star Trek pablum you've heard, what makes us human is the ability to believe something the facts don't support. That's what the feeling of invincibility is!

But I digress. Let me get back to the point. When can you breathe again, whether it's cancer or a steel beam? It depends. Even Lance Armstrong tensed up and was close to freaking out at his final, five year exam. You can breathe again when your intellect lets go of the knowledge that you'll die. When you aren't reminded that you could die by appointments and tests and whatever else reminds you. When you can forget and get on with your life.

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